The Hand Warmer Design Challenge

The Hand Warmer Design Challenge:

Where Does the Heat Come From?

■Central Challenge

You are challenged to use chemistry to design an effective, safe, environmentally benign, and inexpensive hand warmer. The ideal hand warmer increases in temperature by 20°C (but no more) as quickly as possible, has a volume of about 50 mL, costs as little as possible to make, and uses chemicals that are as safe and environmentally friendly as possible. You will carry out an experiment to determine which substances, in what amounts, to use in order to make a hand warmer that meets these criteria.

■Explanation to Strengthen Student Understanding

One type of hand warmer contains water in one section of the packet and a soluble substance in another section. When the packet is squeezed the water and the soluble substance are mixed, the solid dissolves and the packet becomes warm. Breaking bonds and particulate attractions absorb energy from the surroundings, while forming new bonds and particulate attractions release energy to the surroundings. When an ionic solid dissolves in water, ionic bonds between cations and anions in the ionic solid and hydrogen bonds between water molecules are broken, and new attractions between water molecules and anions and water molecules and cations are formed. The amount of energy required to break these bonds and form new ones depends on the chemical properties of the particular anions and cations. Therefore, when some ionic solids dissolve, more energy is required to break the cation–anion bonds than is released in forming the new water– ion attractions, and the overall process absorbs energy in the form of heat. When other ionic compounds dissolve, the converse is true, and the bond making releases more energy than the bond breaking absorbs, and therefore the process overall releases heat. When heat is absorbed, the enthalpy change, q, is endothermic, and the enthalpy change is positive. When heat is released, the change is exothermic, and the value of q is negative. The entropy change of solution formation is always positive, regardless of whether it is endothermic or exothermic, because solutions are much more disordered than are the pure solute and solvent from which they are made. This positive entropy change is thermodynamically favorable.


You will design and execute an experimental procedure to determine which of three ionic compounds is most suitable for use in a hand warmer. You will be assigned to one of the following groups:

Group 1 / Group 2 / Group 3 / Group 4 / Group 5
NH4NO3 / NaCl / NH4NO3 / NaCl / NH4NO3
Na2CO3 / LiCl / LiCl / Na2CO3 / LiCl
CaCl2 / NaC2H3O2 / NaC2H3O2 / CaCl2 / NaC2H3O2

1. Safety and Environmental Impact: Obtain the MSDS for your three solids from your teacher. Review each one, making notes about safety concerns, necessary precautions, and disposal.

2. Cost: Rank the solids you are given from least to most expensive.

Substance / 2012 Cost per 500 g ($)
NaCl / 3.95
CaCl2 / 6.55
NaC2H3O2 / 12.90
Na2CO3 / 6.15
LiCl / 32.75
NH4NO3 / 9.05

3. Heat of Solution: Work with your group to design a procedure to compare the solids in terms of the heat released or absorbed when they dissolve and include what materials and equipment you will use. You must include the safety precautions you will take.

Important procedure tips:

·  Be sure to keep detailed records of the amounts of substances used and the starting and ending temperature as you will need it later to determine the amount of solid to use in your hand warmer.

·  You will receive a maximum of 10 g of each solid for this part.

4. By convention, scientists report enthalpy changes for dissolution (and many other processes) in units of kilojoules per mole of solute dissolved. Using your values, calculate the enthalpy in units of kilojoules per mole. This quantity has the symbol ΔHsoln.

5. Based on the cost information provided, and your experimental work and calculations, select which chemical you believe will make the most cost-effective hand warmer. The hand warmer you are designing needs to increase in temperature by 20°C. Calculate the amount of the compound you selected that would be required for a hand warmer that meets this requirement.

Argumentation and Documentation

Write a paragraph in which you describe all of the factors you considered as well as explain your rationale for choosing one chemical and not each of the other chemicals studied in this experiment. Your paragraph should start with a claim sentence that clearly states your choice and the amount of substance to use. The claim should be followed by evidence from your experiment and cost and safety analysis. The paragraph should conclude with reasoning, explaining how your evidence supports your claim.